at the intriguing new site Substance:
For anyone interested in addiction and drug policy, the last year or so has been the most fascinating period in recent memory. Having kicked heroin and cocaine in 1988 and written about the subject ever since, I can’t remember a time when public opinion and actual policy have changed so quickly—and in such a rational direction.
I’m not just talking about marijuana—although the fact that the Obama administration has allowed two states (Colorado and Washington, as of January 1) to legalize the recreational use of marijuana is a seismic shift. Six other states are considering either recreational or medical marijuana legalization. Internationally, Uruguay has also legalized, and Mexico has a decriminalization bill in the works.
A US congressman recently ridiculed the nation’s deputy drug czar for his failure to admit the obvious—that marijuana is less harmful than methamphetamine—when, previously, few politicians would publicly do anything except thunder about the evils of marijuana as a “gateway drug” while pushing for longer sentences, harsher penalties and increased “antidrug” spending. Being seen as “soft on drugs” was viewed as a political death sentence in the Clinton and Bush years.
But today, even the staunchly prohibitionist Smart on Marijuana (SAM) claims to support cannabis decriminalization: a stance that was seen as tantamount to promoting drug use just a few years ago. Although what SAM actually seems to favor is coerced treatment or “education” for marijuana possession rather than full decriminalization, the fact that almost no one seems to think locking up marijuana users and saddling them with criminal records is a good idea anymore is an incredible reversal. …
In the coming months, I’ll be covering these issues for Substance.com, exploring their potential for both positive and negative outcomes for people with substance use disorders. While I believe that almost all of these changes are positive, it’s important for people who advocate new ways of doing policy to be aware of the pitfalls of going too far and to adjust their approach to deal with the changing situation they face. Some past attempts to liberalize drug laws have been met with a harsh backlash when predicted benefits were not as great as promised or when harms were dismissed rather than addressed.